There are other ways to get to the peak - from the backside that's at a higher elevation than the portal, or by camping for a day or two at one of the several, higher elevation campsites along the trail. But, the Portal-to-Peak and back is considered one of the more famous extreme one day hikes.
The hike is broken down into many parts, but for simplicity sake, we broke it down into only four parts: 1) the forest at the base, 2) the boulders up to about 12,000 feet, 3) the switchbacks up to about 13,500 and then 4) the crest trail that gets you to the peak.
All seven of us hit the trail at 2:20AM with headlamps on.
Lots of breaks and fun up until about 12,000 feet just shy of the switchbacks. Anthony would yell "Nailed it!" when he successfully crossed water without getting his shoes wet.
But at about 9AM, 6.5 miles from the start, Avery and Jackson were feeling the effects of a previous bug and the altitude. Anthony had just tripped and Mom was holding him.
Heather and I gave a look at each other knowing that Avery and Jackson should turn around. Even though they had hiked Mt. Whitney two years previous, the effects were wearing on them this time. Heather offered to take them down to a safer elevation and asked if Anthony wanted to go. He got up from her lap, announced that he was not sick and therefore, he was "not going to quit."
So, with Heather, Avery and Jackson heading back down to the forest, Natalie, Kelly, Anthony and I went ahead, climbing the 97 switchbacks. The switchbacks were completed with a lot of smiling, but the crest trail was tough. We needed lots of breaks in the thin air. Anthony took a few catnaps as well.
But at 2:30PM, about 12 hours after we started, we reached the peak. Natalie was in some pain as she had not taken any medication for her back in several hours [She had a spinal tumor removed in May]. And having not slept the night before due to some altitude effects, Kelly was calculating how long she would have been awake by the time we would be done.
But tired mood shifted as we headed down, Anthony started negotiating the various movies he wanted to watch now that he hit the peak (PG13's were on his mind even though "I know they're violent."). On the way down the switchback, Anthony created his next catchphrase "Heads up, Daddy!" whenever we approached the steep steps at a switchback. But lots more fun, smiles and singing, until about 8:30 PM when we reached the beginning of the forest, around 11,000 feet.
The sun was setting and all were tired. Headlamps on again as we meandered to the portal through the forest, arriving at the finish about 11:45PM. 21.5 hours on the trail.
Mom, Avery and Jackson were a welcome sight. Not being able to communicate and not sure if we were going to make it, they stayed at portal until we arrived, gleaning bits of information from other hikers that passed us on the trail.
Anthony was determined. He carried all his own gear. Refused to be carried (holding hands was OK though). But, this was not the fun, outdoorsy backpacking trips like those taken previously with the older kids. This was a challenge, his challenge. I think he wanted to prove he "belonged," wasn't a little kid and to set a record. Earlier in the summer we called it the "Summer of Being Great," because of all the things the kids wanted to get better at. This was one of his, along with learning to bike, swim and snorkel. He may have set his mind to it a couple years ago when the older kids hiked it previously, but he was persistent over the past few months with training and getting himself ready. Tough 38 lb. kid who turned 6 just a few months prior in May.
I was most upset the next day though, when I asked the kids if they were achy and sore. They looked at me like I was an alien. No pain, no blisters? None. Days later, I'm still feeling the effects.
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